The first lesson in economic theory is that we live in a world of scarcity. Scarcity is a situation whereby human wants exceed the means to satisfy those wants. Human wants are assumed to be limitless, or at least they don't frequently reveal their bounds. People always want more of something, be it: more cars, more food, more love, more happiness, more peace, more health care, more clean air or more charity. Our ability and resources to satisfy all those wants are indeed limited. There's only a finite amount of: land, iron, workers and years in a lifetime.
Scarcity produces several economic problems: What's to be produced, who's going to get it, how's it to be produced, and when is it to be produced? For example, many Americans, and foreigners, too, would love to have a home or vacation home along the thousand miles of California, Oregon and Washington coastline. Shipping companies would like to use some of it as ports. The U.S. Defense Department would like to use it for military installations. There's simply not enough coastline to meet all the competing wants and uses. That means there's conflict over coastline ownership and its uses.
There are several methods of conflict resolution. First, there's the market mechanism -- let the highest bidder be the one who owns and decides how the land will be used. Then, there's government fiat, where the government dictates who gets to use the land for what purpose. Gifts might be the way where an owner arbitrarily chooses a recipient. Finally, violence is a way to resolve the question of who has the use rights to the coastline -- let people get weapons and physically fight it out.
At this juncture, some might piously say, "Violence is no way to resolve conflict!" The heck it isn't. The decision of who had the right to use most of the Earth's surface was settled through violence (wars). Who has the right to the income I earn is partially settled through the threats of violence. In fact, violence is such an effective means of resolving conflict that most governments want a monopoly on its use.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The following is lesson one in elementary economics from Dr. Walter Williams for ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ's readers: